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'I can't support STC anymore, I'm done'

Michael Clements, who led trainers’ fight against racing closure, explains early exit

The ripple effect of Michael Clements’ last day as a trainer by month’s end is still being felt around Kranji and beyond with shock and dismay – and surprise.

When the news broke on June 5 that Singapore racing would end by Oct 5, 2024, Clements became the voice who would speak for all 22 protesting trainers.

As president of the Association of Racehorse Trainers Singapore (Arts), it was his role by default.

But the 57-year-old’s usual calm and composed self also made him the right man for that job. To many, he was also the “voice of reason”.

When tempers flared among some of the trainers and owners during the crisis, a few things could have been spoken out of turn.

But Clements struck the right balance between making a firm stand and keeping the door open for negotiations, if any.

Dissent and confusion also threatened to split the ranks, but Clements somehow mustered the rallying call to preserve unity.

With the way discussions hit a brickwall after a while, his original optimism about an extension of time gave way to realism, but never to outright pessimism.

If it did, his impassive countenance, again, did not betray it.

But to become the first trainer to throw in the towel was one long shot not many had seen coming.

More so when 13 months were still left to the countdown, considered more than enough time for a leading yard of 45-odd horses to make the most of it till the end.

On Monday, the Zimbabwe-born Singaporean citizen issued a press statement that his last day at the races would be Sept 30.

Other than being “disappointed” with the way Singapore Turf Club treated participants, especially trainers, not much was revealed.

Diplomatic to a fault he may be, Clements is actually not that coy to shed more light on his decision.

There was no last straw, but just the build-up of sheer frustration has broken the camel’s back. Pessimism won in the end.

“I’m disappointed that although the club knew racing was going to close over a year before their announcment, they never entered into any dialogue whatsoever with stakeholders, as to how to amicably close it down,” he said.

“They still continued to let us invest in the industry and buy new horses overseas.

“They are now drip-feeding us to try and keep racing going until October next year.

“Owners, trainers, jockeys and our staff have basically been treated as collateral damage regarding the closure of horse racing.

“I’ve supported STC as a trainer for 25 years, and I’m grateful for the success I’ve derived from the opportunities that my owners and the club have afforded me.

“But I feel the collective of how the STC has treated us over the last three months is morally wrong. I therefore no longer wish to support them any further. I’m done.

“I’ll take a break in the next few months to consider my future. I’ll see what’s available, but it might be nothing leaning towards racing.”

While the winner of 814 races (which can still go up with 13 runners this Saturday and next week) in Singapore and 260 in Zimbabwe may or may not be lost to racing, he was mindful about his owners and 24 staff being told first before the news went public.

“My owners were shocked and saddened, but they fully understood my feelings towards the club. 100 per cent of them are supportive of my decision,” he said.

“I told my staff if I don’t stay till October next year it’ll be December this year, but I’ve left three months earlier.

“So, while they’re disappointed, the writing was on the wall, and they were mentally prepared.

“Most of my older staff said they would look for work outside. We still haven’t heard about the $1,000 vouchers the club will provide staff for training courses.

“Once we know where the horses are going, it’ll give us an idea where my staff will go.”

Out of his current string of 43 horses, around half have already found new homes, including his biggest supporter, the Pacific Stable who will split his 15 horses three ways among David Kok, Jason Ong and Daniel Meagher.

The highest-rated (84) horse, four-time winner Pacific Emperor – who is in Saturday’s Class 1 race (1,200m) – will be trained by Kok.

Other major supporters like the Al-Arabiya and Falcon Racing Stables have yet to decide, but with horses both at Kranji and Malaysia, it should not take long.

Clements still has one last battle left, the appeal against the $50,000 fine for morphine cases.

“I’m appealing against the severity of the penalty. The hearing has not been fixed yet, but for sure, I’ll be attending,” he said.